Our first and only visit to the San Diego Zoo was over twenty years ago. This time, we decided to try one of their special experience tours, with a special price tag, of course. We chose the "Early Morning with Pandas" experience.
We needed to meet our guide at 8:30 a.m. near the front gate. This was a weekday, and our path to the zoo was up the very busy interstate 5, so naturally we were going to be in the thick of San Diego commute traffic. I thought we'd left early enough, but their brand of thick is thicker than most; a snail was going to get there before our car. Once again Mike's new smartphone proved its worth. Using Google maps with traffic, I routed us off the freeway and through several miles of surface streets to the zoo, just in the nick of time.
We met up with our small group -- about 8 people -- near the front gate. Our guide at the zoo was a lovely lady named Janet, who led us to an electric tram that would be our transportation. As promised, we went straight to the panda enclosure before the zoo would open to other visitors. The pandas were cute, of course, but nothing much exciting went on except for some bamboo-chewing (video).
But there were other compensations besides the panda visit. We went behind-the-scenes at the giraffe enclosure and did some hand-feeding. One young giraffe in the pen was extremely frisky and showing off. An older one who was being hand-fed stared me down as I took video.
We also made brief visits to a couple of other exhibits, and got a quick tour in the tram of a few other parts of the zoo. Then, after an hour or so with the guide and the group, we were on our own.
The zoo is very large, its terrain is VERY hilly, and there's no convenient transportation other than your legs. I was missing that tram badly in about an hour. It was also a hot day, so we looked for cool opportunities; one very pleasant place was an aviary with lots of shade and many colorful birds.
While most of the birds fluttered in the branches overhead, the beautiful blue crowned pigeons skittered around at our feet, showing no fear. Two of them were rather frisky; I couldn't really tell if they were mating or fighting.
One of my favorite exhibits was the polar bears, where we got a unique underwater perspective on one of the residents.
Many of the animals were caged behind wire or screening that made it difficult to get photographs. My camera did manage this one of a handsome cougar.
Another exhibit I enjoyed was the koala enclosure. They were all sleeping in the trees, of course, and quite far away, but I managed a few decent tele-photos. I also tried for a bit of video, but they were barely moving so I gave up on that.
Of course, the zoo has many, many more animals than these few, but the tough terrain tired me out quickly and we missed a lot. Also many animals were either pretty standard fare or just not of interest to us. In fact, I was a bit disappointed in our visit, remembering the zoo as more impressive the first time. Perhaps I've just seen enough zoos, or perhaps my sensibilities have changed; I found it difficult to look at all these caged animals who should be out in the wild. I know that these days, animals in zoos are all either born there or rescued, but still it bothered me.
Perhaps...I'm just getting old.